You have a degree in philosophy and a minor in athletic training. When did you know you wanted to be a pediatrician? How has your background in these areas shaped the way you practice medicine?
I’ve been telling my family that I was going to be a pediatrician since I was about three. I went to college intending to major in philosophy and minor in chemistry with the plan of going to medical school. I’ve always enjoyed thinking and asking questions as an end in and of themselves, and I believed philosophy was a great stepping stone to any discipline if I changed my mind about medicine, as well as a great way to learn about logic and humanity at the same time. I ended up getting hurt while a member of the college swimming and diving team, hitting the water just wrong on a foreword jump (not even a dive!) in practice my freshman year, sending my back into spasm. I ended up having to drop chemistry and take incompletes in all of my classes because I was unable to sit for more than a few minutes, and had a great deal of trouble even walking. I spent a lot of time in the training room and developed an interest there. Two weeks before the start of my senior year I decided I really did want to go to medical school. Because of my AT minor, I already had biology and physics, so I changed my class schedule for my senior year around and took general chemistry my senior year. For college graduation, my dad paid my tuition for me to take organic chemistry the summer after graduation. I took the August MCAT and started applying to medical schools. I started in Duluth the following fall.
As I started medical school, I thought I wanted to be a family physician, and I was even the Assistant Student Director for the MAFP, largely because I wanted to do OB. Eventually, I figured out that what I liked about OB was the babies, not the moms necessarily. When I told my mentor, I thought he would be shocked to hear that I was choosing peds. His response was, “Oh, thank goodness… I was starting to think I was going to have to tell you that you’re a pediatrician, not a family physician.”
What drew you to Willmar?
I am passionate about rural primary care, and I really wanted to be in a small town where I could be a true “community pediatrician” – well child care, newborn care (especially sick newborns), hospital medicine, complex care, etc. I grew up in Rochester, but was a camper and later I was on staff at a summer camp near Longville, MN. I got sick one year when I was at camp and I had to go to the doctor. I was shocked that we had to drive 45 minutes just to be told that I had an ear infection. I couldn’t believe that it was possible for people in my own state to have such difficulty accessing health care, and ever since then, I wanted to work in a rural setting.
What does a day in your life as a rural practitioner look like?
We do a broad variety of everything out here – normal newborns, sick newborns, feeder/growers transferred back from the NICU, healthy children, mental health, complex care, etc. If my patient is having a problem with their g-tube, I am the only person who can trouble shoot, and for a long time I was the only person comfortable changing g-tubes, because the home care nurses weren’t comfortable with it and the parents weren’t taught how. We also often have to be the eyes and ears of the specialists who see our patients. I have a 6-month-old patient with congenital diaphragmatic hernia. There have been several times when her specialists have commented, “If they didn’t live two hours away, I’d have the family bring her in just to take a look at her.” That’s not possible, so they come in to see me, and I communicate with her specialists what I’m seeing and we make up a plan together.
Describe the biggest benefits to working with your current patient population.
I love my Somali families. They are so generous of spirit, and so very appreciative that someone will take the time to listen to their concerns about their children. I also love the interconnectedness of all of my patients and families. Everyone knows everyone, and my patient’s families become my family.
What’s the funniest thing a child ever said to you?
“If you’re not supposed to eat your boogers, how come they taste so good?” I find there are two types of adults in this world: those who hear that, get a look of disgust on their face and say, “That is so gross!” and those who say, “You know, the kid had a point.”
You’ve been a strong advocate for drowning prevention, oral health and immunizations. Can you describe your involvement in these initiatives? Why are you passionate about these issues? Are there any other issues you have or are currently involved in?
The short answer is that I am not very good at saying “no,” but that’s only part of the reason I’ve gotten involved in all of these things. Several years ago, we had two Somali boys drown here in Willmar. The year prior, one of my Somali patients was involved in a near drowning. The children in our community are not just my patients, they are my friends’ kids, and for many of them, I think of them as my own children. I grew up with a love of the water, and I wanted to make sure children in our community could grow up learning to love it, too. I have served on the Advisory Board for a HRSA Healthy Tomorrows grant with Rice Regional Dental Clinic. Our goal was to increase access to a dental home for children, and to increase awareness of the importance of early oral care. Through my work on the Southern Prairie Community Care Somali Health Task Force, I was invited to speak at the mosque about the MMR vaccine during the 2017 measles outbreak, and have spoken at the mosque a couple of times since then about immunizations. I’m passionate about these things because these are my kids too.
For many years, I have been very interested in Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH). I do a lot of mental health as a part of my practice, and it has always been clear to me that many of the problems I’m treating have their roots in early childhood. Through my upbringing, I saw how much difference it makes to have loving, supportive parents. I am where I am today because largely because my dad was determined that my life would be different than his was, and different from some of my cousins. He is a remarkable man who always taught me that children have a lot to tell us and teach us, if we just take the time to listen.
This fall I started a Master’s program in Applied Child and Adolescent Development through the Institute of Child Development (ICD) at the U of MN in the IECMH track. It is terrifying being back in school after so many years, but I am learning a lot, and it has changed the way I understand my patients.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Not much spare time since school started! I like to read, crochet, and spend time with friends and family. I also love to sail, and I hope to get a Sunfish one of these years so I can spend my weekends, when I am not on call, out on the water.